Reflecting on the need of so many in Haiti

My blog friend Amuirin wrote a very poignant and beautiful post about how she feels (and I suspect many of us feel as we get pounded with stories of  ills of the world) that she cannot take another heartbreak on humanity.   I really encourage you to read her short post on this.  It’s quite wonderful.

I was going to leave a comment there but I knew it would go long so I decided to post here.  About seven years ago I worked for a small non-profit group whose mission was (well, still is) to help people.

As the public relations guy, part of my job was to get info out to the media about our programs. At the time, the Enron debacle was in full swing and we saw a spike in the number of people who were needing financial help.

I was writing a news release and for part of it I interviewed our director of the family assistance program to get her perspective.  She said that people who had lost all their life savings and were on the verge of losing everything else due to the demise of Enron were coming in seeking help. She had seen a significant rise in the number of families seeking financial assistance with utility bills, mortgage notes or groceries from our small food bank. This was on top of the normal flow of desperate, low-income families we tried to help every month.

Working in the department that wrote the grant requests, sent out letters to donors asking for more contributions and whose job it was to get more money for the non-profit group, I knew how rationed our finances were. I knew we didn’t have enough to help everyone who was in such dire circumstances.

And so I asked this person, “how do you… well, you know… how do you reconcile the idea that we have so many families coming in asking for help but knowing only a few will get it?”

She said when she first started with the non-profit about 20 years earlier she would literally cry herself to sleep as she thought of the families that were being turned away. But she came to grip with fact that she or the non-profit couldn’t help everyone… but she could help some and to those families she had made a difference.

It reminds me of this wonderful story that speaks to that idea as well.

The Boy and the Starfish

A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance, as he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean.

As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water.

The man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy replied,”I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen. “But”, the man said, “You can’t possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The boy smiled, bent down and picked up another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied.

“I made a huge difference to that one!”

~Author Unknown~

4 responses to “Reflecting on the need of so many in Haiti

  1. I love this post, Julian. It is so true. I work in mental health and there is such a huge need on so many fronts. I know I can’t help every kid to the extent that they need helping, but doing something (for me) is better than nothing.

    The situation in Haiti is a constant for me. I haven’t been able to think about much more. ack.

  2. I worked for a non-profit bankruptcy group when Enron filed. I was the media relations person and had no law experience, but somehow people would call and ask me for help. I could tell they were crouching in a bus terminal/train station; they were out of breath and whispering, sometimes crying when they pleaded for me to help. I wasn’t an attorney and could offer them ZERO legal aid but I told them everything I knew about bankruptcy law and their options. It was a horrible feeling to not offer them any real help.

    Lately I’ve been noticing others around me, usually those in some kind of manual service position. They usually have 2 or 3 such jobs just to make ends meet. There are scores of homeless people around my office. I have a handful of Haitian friends who still haven’t had contact with their relatives. How do you help everyone? Do you give a little to all in need or concentrate on certain groups? Do you give money or yourself?

    I don’t know. I have strong feelings about service and what it is (which is basically anything: directions, a hug, a smile, listening to someone, donating food or clothing, giving someone a ride, dedicating your life traveling to these ravaged areas and taking care of the need on the ground, etc.)… but where to begin?

    Sometimes I feel as though I’m the only one who has these feelings but after reading this, I know I’m not. Thank you.

  3. Hey Erin… It’s hard not to think of anything else when there is so much coverage of it and then to hear of a 6.1 aftershock and then a 5.9 coming in the day after.

    Hi Pam. It is so hard… at least for those with an ounce of humanity. I say that qualifier because of some of the horrible things I’ve been hearing from AM talk radio.

    Anyway, i think you’re right anything is a help. Whether it’s texting 10 bucks to the Red Cross, adding a five while buying food at the grocery store or if you have the means, volunteering with a local organizer to send supplies.

    When I was in the military we had a saying… “ounces make pounds.” If everyone does even a little, it adds up. Thanks for stopping by.

    p.s. I was thinking about you this morning. Went on my first run of the year (pretty awful. I’m painfully out of shape) and was wondering how you’re training is going.

  4. Congrats on your first run of the year! Starting an exercise program is quite possibly the worst part of exercising because getting in the habit is close to death before it actually becomes a habit.

    I’m still working out with a trainer once a week. We’ve now moved on to “power exercises” (he promises I’ll stay small and won’t be man-bulky). I’m biking once a week, running every other day and playing basketball once a week. I’m yet to start my swimming because the last thing I want to do when it’s snowing outside is jump into a cold pool.

    The training is hard and I’m exhausted ALL THE TIME… but I keep telling myself it’s for the greater good. The greater good of what I’m not sure. I suppose it’s all about setting goals and reaching them, stumbling along the way but not giving up.

    So set some ATTAINABLE goals; don’t be unrealistic. Start slowly because if you do a full-court press your first few days out, you’ll be sore and could hurt yourself. Allow your body to get used to your new routine! Good luck!

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